Excellent Swedish adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist‘s macabre novel, which is one of the more original takes on the well-trodden vampire genre and is as far from the romantic and glamorous depictions of vampires in popular culture as you can imagine. It’s also a movie about children that is in no way meant for children.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old boy living with his mother in a faceless suburb somewhere in Sweden, and his life sucks. His parents are largely absent, he has no friends and he’s mercilessly bullied at school. Pale-skinned with white-blond hair, he looks like a ghostly creature not quite of this world, and in his misery he indulges in fantasies where he takes violent revenge against his bullies. One snowy night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), his new next-door neighbour, a strange dark-haired girl about his age who doesn’t seem to notice the biting cold while hanging around the playground in a thin dress. That’s because Eli is a vampire, and the older man she lives with, named Håkan, is a killer who goes out at night, overcomes his victims with a home-made anaesthesia kit, and drains their blood, taking it home for Eli. He’s not altogether competent and is soon caught in the act, leaving Eli to become a predator by herself. In the meantime, Oskar and Eli’s friendship slowly develops and deepens, even as Oskar realises that Eli might not be human… or a girl.
If this sounds like a recipe for one grim downer, that’s because it is, drenched in wintry Scandinavian bleakness and with a deadly serious approach to the whole vampire thing. There’s a subplot about one of Eli’s victims who survives the attack only to become afflicted with blood lust and intolerance to sun light; it’s a shame it feels truncated compared to the book because I felt it was a strikingly realistic portrait of what becoming a vampire would really be like. It’s also when the movie does its only misstep with a scene involving fake-looking CGI cats – again a shame because it’s one of the most memorably grotesque scenes in the novel. Much of the violence in the movie is implied, or shown from a distance, rather than made explicit, which is used most effectively in the climatic scene taking place at the pool.
The two young actors playing Oskar and Eli are exceptional and the movie does a great job messing around with your moral compass with this story of loneliness and connection. It makes you feel sympathy for a character who is, when you get down to it, a monster killing innocent people for food, and you cheer when these two lonely souls find each other, even though realistically you can’t see a happy ending in their future. In the book, Eli’s relationship with Håkan is explained for what it is – he’s a pedophile and while he provides Eli with protection and food she’s a mean to satisfy his urges in what he sees is a guilt-free way, since she’s not really a child. In the movie, the nature of their relationship and their past history remains mysterious, and it’s easier to draw some depressing parallels and wonder if Håkan foreshadows Oskar’s ultimate fate. Which is… dark. For the length of the film though, this unconventional love story is a very moving one.